New Delhi: As per the official Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBM) data, 21 Indian states and 6 Union Territories are Open Defecation Free (ODF). However, The Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE) has published a report questioning the status of SBM and ODF India on ground level. RICE conducted a Rural Sanitation Survey, where the team visited 1,558 households, and interviewed 156 local government officials, in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh in late 2018. The report by RICE, titled “Changes in open defecation in rural North India: 2014-2018”, concludes stating that the “existing programs to eliminate open defecation in India have been largely unsuccessful”. Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation and SBM Rural has released a statement to verify the SBM progress.
As per the ministry statement, under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) (Grameen), over 5.4 lakh villages and 585 districts have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). 27 States and Union Territories have declared themselves ODF so far. The statement also suggests that over 9 crore toilets have been built across rural India so far, taking the national rural sanitation coverage up from 39 per cent in 2014 to over 98 per cent today. The statement further read,
This progress has been independently verified by a third-party National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey 2017-18 under the World Bank-supported project across 90,000 households in over 6000 villages, which found the rural toilet usage to be 93.4 per cent. Two more independent surveys conducted in the past by the Quality Council of India in 2017, and National Sample Survey Organisation in 2016, also found the usage of these toilets to be 91 per cent and 95 per cent respectively. The Mission is on track to achieve an ODF India by October 2019.
The RICE report, however took a jibe at these official numbers by asserting that 44 per cent of the rural population in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan still defecate in the open. These three states, except for Bihar, are either fully or majorly ODF, as per the Government data.
The report highlights the behavioural change required for achieving the aim of eradicating the practice of open defecation. The study further touches upon how around 23 per cent rural households across the four states owning a toilet, were found to defecate in the open.
“This is the same proportion as in 2014,” the RICE study suggests.
In Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, according to the study, open defecation among toilet owners actually increased between 2014 and 2018. In this context, the Ministry has responded saying the study “grossly misleads the reader and does not reflect the ground reality.”
The government statement highlights five gaps in the RICE study that includes the research sample itself. As per the ministry, the sample taken into consideration for the research is ‘Statistically insignificant and Non-Representative’.
The report quotes a survey of merely 1558 households in 157 villages against a total of nearly five crore households and 2.3 lakhs villages in the four States surveyed – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The survey also covers only 2 (out of 33) districts of in Rajasthan, 3 (out of 38) districts in Bihar, 3 (out of 75) districts in UP and 3 (out of 52) districts in Madhya Pradesh, and comes up with extrapolations and exaggerated judgements on sanitation status across these States. Since the SBM is the largest behaviour change program in the world, to pick such a small sample and extrapolate results to an entire State is over simplistic. Such surveys have a huge margin of error,
the statement further justified.
The ministry is also not satisfied with the lack of clarity when it comes to the timeline of the survey as it claims that the RICE study repeatedly uses a vague ‘late 2018’ time frame.
“..Conspicuously fails to mention the exact dates, which is very misleading as the SBM is an extremely fast moving program, and sanitation status has changed exponentially, on a monthly basis, in the last year.”
The 2018 survey adds 21 per cent new Households as compared to 2014. In such a small survey, an inclusion of overall 21 per cent new Households (as high as 1/3rd in Rajasthan and MP) can substantially alter the outcome and renders the results non-comparable, the statement further added.
The government also called out the think-tank on the ‘flawed questionnaire’ as the key question for the survey is based on the ownership of the toilet and not the access to a toilet.
In reality, some households share toilets, and some use community and public toilets when they may not have a personal household toilet. This is not covered at all through the questionnaire used in the study.
While the RICE report also suggests ‘coercion’ has been used to make people build and use toilets under SBM, the ministry responded to it stating that “the report fails to distinguish between coercion and affirmative community action, like local Nigrani Samitis, or local GP or community level sanctions on open defecation.”
However, while the Ministry and the think-tank present their contradicting data, a report from World Health Organisation states that by the time Swachh Bharat Abhiyan reaches its goal in 2019 and India becomes ODF, more than 3 lakh lives would have been saved because people will have access to safe sanitation.
The status of the BJP flagship mission, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was justified last year as well when a WaterAid study, ‘Out of Order – The State of the World’s Toilets 2017’, reported that the number of people without basic sanitation facilities in India stands at a high 73 crore. The report also stated that the percentage for people without access to a basic sanitation facility is at 56 per cent, indicating that more than half of India’s population still lacks access to basic sanitation.
To this, the Joint Secretary, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan Gramin had responded with labelling the improvement in India’s sanitation scenario as remarkable. Mr. Baroka said,
If we take into consideration, even till 2014, the sanitation coverage was a mere 38.70 per cent. Of course there is a long way to go if open defecation is to be completely eradicated but the progress of building toilets and the involvement of various people at village, district and town levels to ensure that sanitation becomes accessible is making the movement a success.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.